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I Grew Up in a Conservative Town, and I Struggle With Pride

I Grew Up in a Conservative Small Town, and I Still Struggle With My Pride

Waving rainbow flags

New Year's resolutions can be both simple and complicated. A few small words form one big goal, and that one big goal can hold a lot of weight. And while there are plenty of great resolution ideas on how to change your life, my personal one for the new year requires a little more explanation.

I grew up in Indiana as a devout Christian. This meant Vacation Bible School, Jesus Camp, and making pamphlets entitled "My Body, Christ's Home." Looking back on all of this, it makes some sense that I didn't come out as bisexual until I got to college. No one in my hometown was out. I had a close friend who was routinely mocked for his apparent homosexuality, and the only defense I could think of at the time was to simply deny it. There was no room to be out where I grew up. I couldn't imagine a life where one could be out and survive.

I want so badly to dig deep and fight the shame, grit my teeth and find a way to feel like enough. Because I am. I am enough.
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After I did come out, after my first "gay" experience, even after realizing that I'm nonbinary and embracing that part of my identity, I still have a great deal of difficulty with the concept of Pride.

There's a great canyon that exists between what I can understand conceptually and what I feel in my bones. While I understand conceptually that I am proud of who I am, what I still feel deep inside me in a place that I can only access in sleep and through my body is shame. That's a very difficult thing to overcome. Especially when the general consensus, at least in the community I now live in, is that there is nothing to be ashamed about. And there isn't. There's nothing shameful about loving who you love. Or not loving anyone at all. Or loving lots of different people.

But every year when Pride comes around, I still find ways to excuse myself. I don't like dressing up, I tell myself. (Which is a complete and utter lie. I dress up every single year for Groundhog's Day.) I don't like crowds, I insist. (Okay, this part is true, but I also know that I'd take a great deal of joy in being surrounded by like-minded people, a scene I couldn't even envision as a child, a teen, or even a young adult.)

What it really boils down to is that I feel like I'm a liar. How can I show up to Pride when inside I feel so small and ashamed? Where is the flag for those who still carry around layers and layers of internalized homophobia because of what was so intensely taught to us when we were young? Who is going to dance on a float for those who support everyone else's right for self-expression and equality except their own?

So that's my resolution for 2020. To invert the Golden Rule: treat myself the way I treat anyone else. I want so badly to dig deep and fight the shame, grit my teeth and find a way to feel like enough. Because I am. I am enough. And even if I can't accomplish all that in a single year, I want to experience and enjoy Pride. I want to come to terms with myself as a changing and evolving person filled with internal inconsistencies, to understand that it's OK that the world I was brought up in is not my reality. I may not be Proud with a capital "P" yet, but I can be proud of just how far I've come.

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